Love In The State Of Undress

In 1980, Barry White boldly announced to the world, “There’s no better music than love makin’ music,” in his distinctive bass-baritone voice. The song, “Love Makin’ Music”, peaked only at #25 at the US R&B charts in that year, yet its message remains to be an enduring testament to this day.

In 2013, a decade after White’s death, years after R&B groups (the Jodeci’s, IMx’s, and the Next’s of the world) reached saturation point; and the music of R. Kelly, Usher, Keith Sweat, Ginuwine, Babyface, and their ilk, who made hip-swinging and gyrating pass of as a romantic gesture, has weaned off; came the likes of Miguel and The Weeknd, who have scratched and dug deep into the surface of narcotic R&B and treaded on the dangerous thrills of “love-making,” only now, it’s simply referred to as “fucking.”

And there was a premise to substantiate what Barry White sang more than 20 years ago, a daring promise that went like this: “Your pleasure is my mission,” a half-croon in the first few lines of “Smilky,” a song that bluntly spewed lines like, “You’re all I wanna do,” when two decades ago, it was only subtly suggested by White as, “Just feel our bodies blend.”

Things have obviously changed.

The band, SUD, categorizes their music as alternative soul, which, for most, is merely a euphemism for “baby-making music,” which is not exactly the case, not to mention, carelessly limiting. Currently composed of Sud Ballecer (vocals, guitars), Sammy Valenia (guitars), Marc Reyes (bass), Kohl Aguilar (keys), Carlos Dela Fuente (saxophone), Jimbo Cuenco (drums), and Carlo Maraingan (percussions), their instruments, in theory, are capable of expanding their sonic landscape from good, old-fashioned R&B to as far as funk, dabs of jazz, and even fusion. But SUD seems disinterested in guessing games, and not just when it comes to what kind of music they play, but what it’s all about, and to some extent – for whom.

Three years is too long a foreplay, with endless teasing in “Smilky,” “Make U Say,” (with references to asses and getting high – presumably not pharmacologically-induced, but metaphorically, i.e., during climax), and even the loosely sexual “Safer” (which I can poorly describe as: from a slow burner to fireworks – the drums went wild the fuck out towards the end) – which capitalized on building tension: basically a prelude to sex.

But in the overall scheme of things, this is why SUD isn’t exactly about the baby-making music business. This is not about moral turpitude (give me a break), but simply a fact. R. Kelly built an empire out of singing about bumping and grinding and “sex(ing),” and no one has hosed him with holy water yet. There is no full commitment to that in SUD’s part. Because sex doesn’t – and will never – monopolize the masses. There’s an equal, if not larger, commodity to that: love. There remains an affectionate emotion that gives SUD romantic sensibilities and amorous passion. A song that, no matter how admittedly cheesy this description may sound, gives them heart. “Sila” is an earnestly written, age-old, ‘you and me against the world’ ode that works cleverly because of its straightforward simplicity. This song alone casts a long shadow among its peers; that despite all the carnal pleasures and worldly gratifications SUD try their damnedest to provide, their music appeals primarily to feelings, and senses are merely secondary. The sensual indulgence palpable in their music serves as either precursors or byproducts, but never as the be-all and end-all. Simply put: it’s not black-and-white lust. Sorry to say, they’re not your guys for that (though this is relatively debatable). That’s what R. Kelly’s for.

At their most erotic form, SUD manufactures “panty-dropper moments” with wordplay and well-timed sax solos. In their songs, “fuck” functions both as an expletive and obscenity. They provide a somewhat liberating, enthralling space where sex is not taboo, not hushed, but is actually the basis, the point of discussion.

Sex as a form of poetry isn’t new, and it’s been peddled in many tacky, tasteless ways that it loses what meaning it has – romantic, passionate, or just a combustion of hormones at play. In fact, there is no life-and-death need to force it in the art of music. However, dynamics plays a crucial part in SUD’s music. Lose it, and they’re a relatively decent-sounding, ostentatiously numbered band. Force it, and they’re just ridiculously pretentious creeps who wanted to be Casanovas with microphones. Thing is, with sex, you need an insanely good combination of instinct and rhythm. And these guys happened to be in band who zero in on that.

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SUD will be releasing their debut album, SKIN, on January 30, 2016, at Route 196, Katipunan Ext., Quezon City. It will be a joint release with spoken word group, Words Anonymous.

 

 

#TDEAppreciationWeek #ImLateFam

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Black Hippy

The only music collective series I massively enjoyed tuning to, that has churned out a consistently good succession of tracks, is Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music Fridays. The series resurfaced a few days ago (if I am to believe Kim Kardashian’s tweet) with Kanye’s lament on kin and friendship, ‘Real Friends’.

I had no idea that sometime in 2012, Top Dawg Entertainment, the label that manages powerhouse rap collective, Black Hippy – comprised of Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, and ScHoolboy Q – released a week-long series of individual tracks for their fans.

I am bugging out because Kendrick’s cut, titled ‘Westside, Right On Time’ (feat. Young Jeezy) was performed in one of my all-time live performances of his – that’s why it felt too familiar when I heard the full version.

Right at the beginning.

Allow me to consume this.

***

Unrelated:

I want to throw this yet another interpolation, this time from soul trio KING’s ‘Hey’, which was sampled by Kendrick on ‘Chapter 6’, his shortest track on Section.80. Because why not.

Today

Don’t even cry about it, just another episode of life

I was reading something about Tupac’s last album, and learned about this old J. Cole track from the Friday Night Lights mixtape that I’m unfamiliar with. J. Cole interpolated Tupac’s ‘Hail Mary’ in the chorus and the production is ripe and gorgeous.

The song’s theme also reminds me of the movie, Boyz n the Hood (dir. John Singleton, 1991), which I recommend if you liked Straight Outta Compton, Dope, Fruitvale Station, and Poetic Justice.

ALBUM: ‘Third Culture Kid’ – N I N N O

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There’s a line from white boy favorite (as per the 2015 Sundance hit, Dope) Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, freestyle three years ago in Sway In The Morning, where he rapped, “I got n*ggas in reserve like I’m deep in Iraq / deepening rap / deeper than rap,” over the beat of Drake’s ‘Pound Cake’. Hiphop and rap culture consists of a multi-layered structure that offers a wealth of information and inspiration, allowing critical assessment from the triad of fame, wealth, and sex, to mapping a wider assembly that bridges the person and the elements surrounding him or her: that is, the cultural and socio-political markup of hiphop. Conscious rap is built on themes of the prevailing status quo that affects and challenges minorities, or sometimes, an individual dealing with these pressures. “Deeper than rap” connotes more than emotional depth, the theme that remarkably dominates 22-year-old producer and MC, Ninno (stylized as N I N N O) Rodriguez’s debut album, Third Culture Kid.

Rap’s reputation from the East Coast gangbanger’s diversion from the violence-riddled Reagan era has since become transcendent, with universities offering college courses not just on the social and political impact and relevance of rap and hiphop, but also as a literary form. This is a visceral focus of Third Culture Kid – that although its themes come from a local’s point of view, N I N N O’s stories are also universal: the idealism of youth, the realization of the disenfranchised artist, the hopefulness that is synonymous to living, and the struggles of being. It is part diaristic, part dramatic.

Sonically, the album’s production has several minimal, sometimes cloistered arrangements, thus feeling like they serve a secondary purpose. On the other hand, this could be intended. As a poet himself, it is not far-fetched to assume that he will opt for less fancy, non-theatrical, and ostentatious embellishments. His words are his weapon and armor, plain and simple. But when both beat and word perfectly complement each other, N I N N O’s presence is overwhelmingly palpable. Album opener ‘TCK’ is a hard-hitting number, with a rapid-fire staccato that hushes you up, as if announcing: “I’m here, listen to me. This is my story.” The album is, without a doubt, loaded with regional hiphop influences that aren’t skewed to fit some kind of local profile, but is nonetheless a playground for potential and imagination. There are notable moments in Third Culture Kid’s instrumentation reminiscent of bits of ‘90s NYC hiphop Wu-Tang Clan and The Notorious B.I.G., and UK grime and hiphop, a la Archy Marshall (formerly known as King Krule) and Kojey Radical, in songs like ‘Darkness Daresay’, ‘False Kings’, and ‘Simmer’. ‘Cult Leaders’ ostensibly echoes the California vibe, while ‘The Fall’ sounds Detroit. ‘Franklin Richards’, on the other hand, gives a vibe that Drake can easily jump on. ‘Kung Fu’, meanwhile, is an unexpected, boisterous, and distracting overturn. A touch excessive and curiously out of place, it is a toiling effort that seemed unnecessary, overshadowing what could’ve been nice homage to the album’s sole nod to the East. ‘Game (Interlude)’ almost sounded forced, and can do without its hook. It bore some unpleasant weight on the half-hearted dance track, ‘Game 3.0’, which featured synth-pop artist Somedaydream, although the artificial coyness of both tracks’ outro are some of my favorite moments in the record.

Lyrically rich and profound, N I N N O’s wordplay can be attributed to his spoken word background, which makes it interesting to pick over his verses, scattered allusions and direct references, clever bars, and personal remarks – mostly about himself and the allegorical ‘you’ and ‘them’. He performed a set in Fête de la Musique last year, which included a spoken word segment, the berth of his knowledge clearly apparent, where he referenced everything from Greek mythology to comic books, from Hannibal Lecter to Shazam, that you will believe him when he pronounced, “My lyrics? This is practice.” A song from that performance, entitled ‘Narcotics’, which is not included in the album, is an explosive, breathless narrative about battling the demons of addiction, with a verse and beat structure that left a lasting impression. Listeners are tend to be left with feeling like voyeuristic vultures forced to feed on his truths and anecdotes, not unwillingly, but because we are uncomfortable with the degree of reality he’s presenting. His conscious rapping doesn’t demand a quick, radical change, but deep, unhurried introspection.

On ‘Simmer’, he reflects on the transient state of things and the responsibilities that come with our choices and actions, because we are accountable to each other, ourselves included. N I N N O lashes out on ‘Cult Leaders’, which targets, well, cult leaders, specifically those with the propensity for false indoctrination. It continues to ‘False Kings (Hitsboii)’, now aimed at skeptics, non-believers, but more so, the phonies (though I think the Pitch Perfect reference could be executed better). ‘The Fall’ bids adieu with caution, and concludes with an impressive ending to Third Culture Kid’s catalog of film references.

‘Space Age’ is an atmospheric, offbeat emo-hop track featuring Lions and Acrobats’ frontman Icoy Rapadas, his voice tinted with fettered weariness and resignation. Characteristically vulnerable and self-preserving, it echoes Kid Cudi’s four-bar dispirited vocals in Kanye West’s ‘Guilt Trip’. ‘Darkness Daresay’ features fellow MC and Logiclub cohort Curtismith, both musing on their individual darkness and how they cope, over a ruminating piano work in the same vein as Ryuichi Sakamoto’s ‘Bibo no Aozora’. And although he introduced us to his persona on ‘TCK’, it is on the CRWN-produced ‘Franklin Richards’ where N I N N O consummates Third Culture Kid – a contemplation of his artistic process (“Got my mind flexin’ / two-and-a half haikus”, “I need something to challenge me / Before I question my identity”) and the circumstances (“Honestly, I feel the dichotomy in my vanity / That analogy is basically beauty versus barbarity”) that govern it.

For his first outing, it’s obvious that the framework itself carries an air of sophistication, not because it borrows heavily from the widely regarded style of Western contemporary hiphop, but how his lyrical content shows a degree of self-awareness, thriving in his sense of identity and his refusal to settle on mediocrity. N I N N O wears Third Culture Kid like his own heart on his sleeve; laying everything he’s got, not to beg for a charity audience or for spare, fleeting attention, but as the zip code of his home, for this man’s about to go places.

The Blackstar Has Extinguished

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Photo: BBC

I guess I’ll give that new David Bowie record a spin. I read some of it was inspired by Kendrick Lamar.

That was me last week, when I read the Pitchfork review for David Bowie, someone who I know very little about, save for his larger-than-life photographs of ranging mania and eccentricity, something that can be easily assumed if I rely on his looks and his looks alone.

I do not wish to eulogize his death, for it feels improper, insubstantial. Like Lou Reed (and subsequently, his death), I feel a certain affection towards the both of them, for the simple matter that both have been touched by the same music synonymous to my being: Kanye West’s and Kendrick Lamar’s. That was the extent of it, but like life and death, I believe music is suspended in between, if not the binding element that connects the two, for I feel the tragedy of the loss of human life, as us people are wired to, but more than ever, because of this connection, no matter how negligible and far-fetched it might appear.

I used the word ‘extinguished’as a reference to his final work, but I’d like to think of it as an allusion as well. David Bowie might have passed on, but the finality of life is limited to the end of his human existence. His star, without a glimmer of a doubt, will continue to burn, and fervently so.

Addendum:

I’ve been listening to Blackstar, and I kept repeating Lazarus, and me doing so has actually less to do with his death, and more of the song itself.

Look up here, man, I’m in danger
I’ve got nothing left to lose

I’ve been saying this to myself lately, I’m at loss with this manner of timing.